Monday, September 30, 2019
An exemplar of effective writing - the Ukraine whistleblower complaint
An opinion column by Jane Rosenzweig, the Director of the Writing Center at Harvard, published in Friday's New York Times that argues the whistleblower complaint is an exemplar of effective writing because the author gets to the point, makes good use of subheadings, uses topic sentences well, and uses the active voice. Sage advice every legal writer should follow. Here's an excerpt from the full column:
The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write
His complaint offers lessons on how to make a point.
I can’t tell you what’s going to happen to his blockbuster complaint about the president’s behavior, but I can tell you that the whistle-blower’s college writing instructor would be very proud of him.
As a writing instructor myself for 20 years, I look at the complaint and see a model of clear writing that offers important lessons for aspiring writers. Here are a few:
The whistle-blower gets right to the point.
We know right away what his purpose is and why we should care. He wastes no time on background or pleasantries before stating that he is writing to report “an ‘urgent’ concern.” And then he immediately states it:
“In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
The whistle-blower uses subheadings to make sure we can connect the dots.
Most subheadings don’t do much to enhance a document. The whistle-blower’s subheadings do what the best subheadings do: They structure the complaint and provide a clear outline of what the document contains:
I. The 25 July Presidential phone call
II. Efforts to restrict access to records related to the call
III. Ongoing concerns
IV. Circumstances leading up to the 25 July Presidential phone call
The bonus of good subheadings is that they serve as a guide for writing the rest of the document. Even if you’re writing something less formal, you can use subheadings to organize your document and then remove them before you share it.
The whistle-blower gets an A for his topic sentences.
. . . .
Continue reading here.
September 30, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Helping Students Pass the Bar Exam: Five Law Schools Share Their Successful Strategies
The Bar Examiner has an article on how five law schools significantly raised their bar pass scores.
Helping Students Pass the Bar Exam: Five Law Schools Share Their Successful Strategies.
The five law schools are Florida International University, University of Massachusetts, University of New Hampshire, University of North Carolina, and University of Utah.
Any law school can raise their bar pass scores by using the same methods as these five law schools. The key is that they drew on the latest in adult educational research and emphasized active learning. Not only do these techniques help schools raise bar pass scores, but they help law schools turn out significantly better students.
September 30, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 23, 2019
Challenges to Legal Education, Clinical Legal Education, and Clinical Scholarship by Peter A. Joy
From one of the top writers on legal education:
Challenges to Legal Education, Clinical Legal Education, and Clinical Scholarship by Peter A. Joy.
"This essay analyzes the challenges to legal education and what those challenges may mean both to clinical legal education and to clinical scholarship. Since the Great Recession, several law schools have closed, some have merged, and still other law schools approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) have been found out of compliance with ABA Accreditation Standards and either have been directed to take specific remedial action, have been placed on probation, or have lost ABA-approval. While enrollment has rebounded at some law schools, other law schools have continued to experience much smaller entering classes than the entering class in Fall 2010. These developments should be part of the conversation about clinical legal education and clinical scholarship, and this essay examines the effects of the Great Recession on law schools’ budgets, staffing, law school admissions, and overall enrollment. This essay concludes with some observations about the future of clinical legal education and clinical scholarship."
September 23, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, September 22, 2019
The LSAT has now gone fully digital
A press release from the LSAC and companion story from the Cornell Daily Sun discuss how the partial introduction last summer of a digital version of the LSAT has gone fully digital as of last weekend's administration of the test. Using a No. 2 pencil to circle little boxes is as antiquated as using a slide rule; test-takers are now handed a tablet for the multiple choice portion of the exam which they complete by touching the correct choices while the "written" portion of the exam is conducted via a new digital platform that lets candidates take it at the time and place of their choice. From the LSAC website:
The Digital LSAT is the same multiple-choice exam as the paper-and-pencil LSAT, delivered on easy-to-use tablets instead of booklets. The tablets will be provided to test takers at the test center. The content and the structure of the test sections and questions are the same as the traditional paper-and-pencil LSAT. It is important to note that the test day is now shorter for test takers because the LSAT Writing is (as of June 2019) administered separately from the LSAT multiple-choice test sections, online via a secure testing platform. Another important change for test takers is that their answers are now selected on the screen by tapping on their answer choice. There are no more paper answer sheets. The tablet offers great features such as a timer with a five-minute warning, highlighting, and flagging to keep track of questions that a test taker may want to revisit in a section.
The transition to the Digital LSAT began in July 2019, when approximately half of the test takers were assigned to take the test on a tablet provided by LSAC, and the rest took the traditional paper-and-pencil test. After the July 2019 test, the LSAT will be digital in North America starting September 2019.
To help provide test takers with the tools and content to prepare effectively and confidently for the Digital LSAT, we have published several full practice tests to the Get Acquainted with the Digital LSAT practice site. These practice tests provide an experience that mirrors the experience of the Digital LSAT. Prospective test takers can access the Get Acquainted site (including practice tests) on a laptop, desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Continue reading the LSAC press release here. You can read the companion Cornell Daily Sun story here.
September 22, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 18, 2019
The American Sociological Association and 17 other professional organizations speak out against the use of student evaluations
Related to our post last week about a recent Harvard study that questions the reliability of student self-reporting when it comes to assessing teacher effectiveness, this new report from Inside Higher Ed notes that several professional organizations including the American Sociological Association are urging colleges and universities to ignore student evaluations in connection with personnel decisions because they are "weakly related" to teacher effectiveness. Here's the full story:
Speaking Out Against Student Evals
Sociologists and more than a dozen other professional groups take a stand against using student evaluations of teaching as a primary measure of teaching effectiveness.
Questioning what student evaluations of teaching actually measure, various institutions have already said they won't use them in high-stakes personnel decisions or as the primary measure of teaching effectiveness.
Now the American Sociological Association and 17 other professional organizations, including the American Historical Association, are urging all colleges and universities to do the same.
"Because these instruments are cheap, easy to implement, and provide a simple way to gather information, they are the most common method used to evaluate faculty teaching for hiring, tenure, promotion, contract renewal and merit raises," reads a new statement from the sociological association, endorsed by other scholarly groups.
Despite these evaluations' "ubiquity," however, "a growing body of evidence suggests that their use in personnel decisions is problematic." The statement cites more than a dozen studies finding that students' evaluations are weakly related to other measures of teaching effectiveness, used in statistically problematic ways and can be influenced by factors such as times of day and class size. It notes that both observational and experimental research has found these evaluations to be biased against women and people of color, and says that adjuncts are particularly vulnerable in a system that depends on them for teaching performance data.
Given these "limitations," the association "encourages institutions to use evidence-based best practices for collecting and using student feedback about teaching."
Feedback, Not Ratings
More specifically, the association recommends that questions on student evaluations should be framed as "an opportunity for student feedback, rather than an opportunity for formal ratings" of teaching effectiveness. It nods to Augsburg University and the University of North Carolina at Asheville, which have both revised their evaluation instruments and renamed them (as the university course survey and the student feedback on instruction form, respectively), to emphasize the difference between feedback and ratings.
Moreover, the association says -- echoing many researchers and faculty advocates -- these evaluations should "not be used as the only evidence of teaching effectiveness." They should instead be used, when used at all, as part of a "holistic assessment that includes peer observations, reviews of teaching materials, and instructor self-reflections."
. . . .
Continue reading here.
September 18, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 16, 2019
Tulane receives $1 million gift to launch a new First Amendment legal clinic
From the Tulane News:
Major Gift Launches First Amendment Clinic at Tulane
With support from a nearly $1 million gift from the Stanton Foundation, Tulane Law School will launch a new law clinic dedicated to First Amendment rights, Dean David Meyer announced.
The gift will cover the full operating costs of the new clinic for five years and enable the law school to hire a new faculty member to lead the clinic. The school will launch a national search for the faculty director this fall with the goal of enrolling students in Fall 2020.
Once in operation, clinic students will represent clients seeking to vindicate First Amendment rights of speech, the press, to petition and assembly under the supervision of faculty mentors.
“This is an exceptional opportunity to extend Tulane’s signature strength in clinical education, while leveraging our faculty’s leading expertise in the First Amendment and serving vital community needs,” Meyer said. “We’re grateful to the Stanton Foundation for partnering with Tulane in making this possible.”
The Stanton Foundation was created by Frank Stanton, a longtime president of CBS News, to advance First Amendment and democratic values through an informed citizenry. Stanton, a founding figure in modern broadcast news, led CBS News for a quarter century, from 1946 to 1971. During his tenure, he organized the first televised debate in 1960 between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, presided over CBS’s defense of the famous libel action brought by Gen. William Westmoreland, and remained a zealous defender of the First Amendment until his death in 2006 at age 98.
The Foundation partnered with Tulane in the new clinic both because of Tulane’s renowned strength in clinical education and its leading faculty expertise on the First Amendment.
“The Stanton Foundation is thrilled to partner with Tulane Law School and is confident that this new law clinic will provide a resource that will benefit all supporters and believers in free speech,” said Stephen Kidder, the foundation’s spokesperson. “Frank Stanton dedicated his career to advancing the core values reflected in the First Amendment and we are so excited that his philanthropy will continue to promote those values under the leadership of Tulane Law School.”
The First Amendment Clinic is the second new law clinic to be announced at Tulane Law School this summer. In June, the law school announced the launch of a new Immigrants Rights Clinic, funded through a major gift from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The search for the new faculty director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic will proceed in parallel with the search for the founding director of the First Amendment Clinic, with both clinics opening next fall.
The First Amendment and Immigrant Rights Clinics will join Tulane’s six existing law clinics: the Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic, Criminal Justice Clinic, Domestic Violence Clinic, Environmental Law Clinic, Juvenile Justice Clinic, and Legislative Advocacy Clinic.
One of the first law schools in the country to launch a clinical program, Tulane remains a national leader in providing professional skills training to students. The school celebrated the 40th anniversary of its clinical program last spring.
The new clinic will extend Tulane’s significant strength in the area of First Amendment law and the new clinic director will be supported by an advisory panel of senior Tulane faculty experts, including Amy Gajda, the Class of 1937 Professor of Law; Stephen Griffin, the W.R. Irby Chair and Rutledge Clement Professor of Constitutional Law; Catherine Hancock, the Geoffrey C. Bible & Murray H. Bring Professor of Constitutional Law; Lucia Blacksher Ranier, Director of Tulane’s Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic; and Keith Werhan, the Ashton Phelps Chair in Constitutional Law.
. . . .
Continue reading here.
September 16, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Proof that Legal Education Reform Works
Florida International University has scored the highest pass rate for first time takers for the 5th straight year on the Florida Bar Exam. (here) The 5th straight year! They did it by adopting teaching and learning techniques like those advocated on this blog and by legal education scholars like Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz.
This year, 111 of 116 FIU bar takers passed. That's 95.7% versus an overall average of 73.9%. For comparison, Florida State scored 86.8% (3rd) and Florida 87.9% (2nd). FIU is ranked 91st in U.S, News. The academic support program at FIU is run by Raul Ruiz and Louis Schulze, Jr.
As I've mentioned previously, FIU succeeds where others fail because they stress active learning, metacognitive techniques, formative assessment, and problem solving. Here is the abstract from an article by Professor Schulze on the FIU program (here):"
What measures can law schools take to improve student performance and bar passage? The answer is not what you think.
Recent developments in the science of learning show that most law students learn wrong. In fact, ineffective methods of learning pervade all levels of education. We now know that widely accepted learning and study strategies that were once considered gospel are actually deeply flawed. Yet we still embrace and propagate those myths.
Meanwhile, bar passage rates and law student performance are plummeting. Everyone in legal education is asking “what can we do?” But, “what can we do?” is the wrong question. The right question is to ask how students can capitalize on the science of learning to be more effective learners.
In this essay, I discuss principles from the science of learning that law schools and students should embrace. In the context of the methods we have implemented at Florida International University College of Law, which had the highest bar passage rate in Florida for three consecutive exams, I detail the project of transforming the learning of law away from the ineffective methods of yore and towards effective strategies that can make a difference on student performance and bar passage.
And it all has to do with science, not lore." (emphasis added)
If the 91st ranked law school can score the highest on the Florida bar for five consecutive years, any law school can improve their bar pass rate.
I have written a book, How to Grow a Lawyer: A Guide for Law Schools, Law Professors and Law Students (2018), that lays out in detail the most effective techniques for law school teaching and learning. I have also written a book for law students, How to Succeed in Law School (2019), for law students, which includes many exercises to help novice law students adopt the best learning techniques.
September 16, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
The "feeling" of learning versus actually learning
Inside Higher Ed has a fascinating story about a new Harvard study (available here) that found students reported "feeling" like they learned more when they passively listened to a fluent, well-spoken lecturer compared to a professor teaching the identical material using an active learning approach that made students work harder for their results. The former group self-reported that they learned more but the latter group in fact learned more based on a comparison of test scores between the two groups. One consequence of the study, the authors say, is that relying on student self-reporting about how much they learn can actually promote inferior classroom pedagogy insofar as students prefer an easy, passive approach over an active one which makes them work harder. The following is an excerpt from the IHE story in which the study's authors add their insights about the implications of their findings:
A study says smooth-talking professors can lull students into thinking they've learned more than they actually have -- potentially at the expense of active learning.
Students who engage in active learning learn more -- but feel like they learn less -- than peers in more lecture-oriented classrooms. That's in part because active learning is harder than more passive learning, according to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Based on their findings, the researchers encourage faculty members to intervene and correct what they call students' "misperception" about how they learn.
"The article does not suggest that students don't like active learning," said lead author Louis Deslauriers, director of science teaching and learning at Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and senior preceptor in physics. "In fact the data in the article shows students liked active learning and they felt they learned from it. But it just happened that students felt more positive about a highly-polished version of the same lecture."
Deslauriers's article is called "Measuring Actual Learning Versus Feeling of Learning in Response to Being Actively Engaged in the Classroom." But he said if he'd had his druthers, it might have been called, "The Dangers of Fluent Lectures."
The study, involving Harvard University undergraduates in large, introductory physics classes, compared students' self reports about what they'd learned with what they'd actually learned, as determined by a multiple choice tests. Students were taught using exactly the same course materials -- a key control that many other studies comparing active versus passive learning have failed to establish. But one group learned via active instruction methods for a week at the end of the semester and the other learned via lectures from experienced and well-regarded instructors.
A "crucial difference" between the two groups, according to the study, was whether students "were told directly how to solve each problem or were first asked to try to solve the problems themselves in small groups."
At the end of the course, students were given both "feeling of learning" and "tests of learning" assessments (the latter consisted of two, low-stakes quizzes with 12 multiple choice questions each). All of the "feeling" responses showed a consistent student preference for the passive lecture environment while scores on the learning tests -- on statics and fluids -- were significantly higher in the active classroom.
. . . .
The findings suggest that "attempts to evaluate instruction based on students' perceptions of learning could inadvertently promote inferior (passive) pedagogical methods," the study says. A "superstar" lecturer could make some students feel good about learning at the expense of demonstrably more effective active experiences. But most importantly, the study says, "these results suggest that when students experience the increased cognitive effort associated with active learning, they initially take that effort to signify poorer learning." And that may have a negative effect on their "motivation, engagement, and ability to self-regulate their own learning."
Although students can, on their own, "discover the increased value of being actively engaged during a semester-long course," the researchers argue, "their learning may be impaired during the initial part of the course."
Students' Attitudes and Expectations
The paper also provides important insight into why active learning hasn't taken deeper root in academe, despite the many studies that have previously identified its effectiveness as compared to more passive approaches (namely the lecture). In a word: students. That is, while professors are often seen as the biggest impediments to innovative teaching, the study describes an "inherent student bias against active learning that can limit its effectiveness and may hinder the wide adoption of these methods."
Compared with students in traditional lectures, students in active classes perceived that they learned less, while in reality they learned more. Students also rated the quality of instruction in passive lectures more highly, and expressed a preference to have "all of their physics classes taught this way," despite their lower test scores.
. . . .
Continue reading the IHE article here.
I'll just add that in an article I wrote here, I made the observation that many law professors feel great pressure (due to the reliance by administrators on student evals and the prevailing student-as-consumer culture at most schools) to come up with innovative classroom methods, often involving technology, that they hope will make the material easier, simpler, clearer, and more enjoyable for students. In actuality, however, the kind of learning we do in law school takes a great deal of effort and is very difficult because the brain was never designed to be good at it (as one expert I cite in my article says, the brain is not designed for deep thinking but, rather, to save us from having to do that kind of thinking at all). By choosing classroom methods or technologies that oversimplify the material or under sell the amount of effort students must put forth to learn, we are guilty of undermining their intellectual readiness to practice law.
September 11, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
The Major Transitions in Professional Formation and Development from Being a Student to Being a Lawyer Present Opportunities to Benefit the Students and the Law School by Neil W. Hamilton
The Major Transitions in Professional Formation and Development from Being a Student to Being a Lawyer Present Opportunities to Benefit the Students and the Law School by Neil W. Hamilton.
"Curricular support during the significant transitions each student experiences in law school will provide substantial benefits to students as well as the law school. What are the significant transitions? The distinction between the situational changes a law student experiences and the significant transitions of law school is important. During law school, each student experiences a number of situational changes like physically moving to a new city to attend law school or starting a new class or a new year of law school. A significant transition, however, is a psychological inner re-orientation and self-definition that the student must go through in order to incorporate the situational changes into a new understanding of professional life’s developmental process. This article will make clear that the major periods of inner re-orientation and self-definition for a law student are exceptional opportunities for the law faculty and staff to foster student growth toward later stages of the school’s learning outcomes. This benefits both each student and the law school itself.
The premise of this article is that each law student during law school, similar to each medical student during medical school, will also have significant transitions where the student is growing, step by step, from being a novice outsider with a stance of an observer ultimately to join a new community of practice as an insider to the profession. Unfortunately, there is very limited scholarship about the significant transitions each student must navigate in legal education. Part II of this article provides an analytical framework regarding the major transitions a law student must make to become a competent practicing lawyer. In Part III, the article provides data from law students starting the 2L year that identify the students’ perception of the major transitions from being a student to being a practicing lawyer in the 1L year and the summer between the 1L and 2L years. Part IV analyzes principles that should inform an effective curriculum to help students grow during the major transitions of law school. Part V applies the principles of an effective curriculum from Part IV to the specific transitions that the students identified as most important in Part III."
September 10, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 9, 2019
"A Study of the Relationship between Law School Coursework and Bar Exam Outcomes" forthcoming in J. Legal Edu
Professor Robert R. Kuehn (WashU) and David Moss (Wayne State) have just posted an important new manuscript on SSRN (here) slated for 68 J. Legal Edu (2019) that many of our readers will no doubt be interested in. The article tracks 10 years of coursework by WashU and Wayne State grads for any relationship between their coursework (focusing on experiential and bar subject matter courses) and bar exam outcomes. It debunks the concern that experiential coursework may be related to bar exam failure and finds a minimal relationship between bar subject courses and bar outcomes, and even then only for the most at risk students. As Professor Kuehn says, "with the adoption of the ABA’s new 75% bar pass standard, this study provides some much needed empirical light where there has been a great deal of often unsubstantiated heat."
From the abstract on SSRN:
The recent decline in bar exam passage rates has triggered speculation that the decline is being driven by law students taking more experiential courses and fewer bar-subject courses. These concerns arose in the absence of any empirical study linking certain coursework to bar exam failure. This article addresses speculation about the relationship between law school coursework and bar exam outcomes. It reports the results of a large-scale study of the courses of over 3800 graduates from two law schools and the relationship between their experiential and bar-subject coursework and bar exam outcomes over a ten-year period. At both schools, the number of experiential courses or credits taken by a student did not correlate with bar passage, positively or negatively. Enrollment in bar courses correlated positively with passage, but the correlation was modest and significant only for students whose class rank placed them at heightened risk of bar failure. Even for those students, the marginal benefit of additional bar-related courses was not statistically significant once the student had taken approximately the average number of bar courses at that school. The study results indicate that efforts to improve bar passage rates by capping experiential credits are not supported by empirical evidence and that requiring bar-subject courses for students at comparable law schools would appear justified, if at all, only when targeted at students whose class rank places them at enhanced risk of bar exam failure.
September 9, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, September 8, 2019
New York Times on the growing problem of homework for hire internet services
Today's New York Times features an article reporting on the growing problem of internet based services that ghostwrite student academic papers for a fee. The NYT reports that many of these services are based overseas, primarily in Kenya, India, and Ukraine, where educated workers far outnumber good jobs leading some to choose a career ghostwriting school papers for American college students. A 2005 study referenced in the story notes that approximately 7% of college students admit to turning in a paper for academic credit "written by someone else." And these "papers for hire" can be hard to detect in terms of cheating since they are original works and thus won't be flagged by anti-plagiarism software like Turnitin (thought that company has just rolled out a new product to deal with this phenomenon called Authorship Investigate). A quick Google search of "help writing law school assignments" turned up several hits though some were aimed at helping students with law school admission essays or undergraduates in legal studies programs.
Here's the article:
Cheating, Inc.: How Writing Papers for American College Students Has Become a Lucrative Profession Overseas
Tuition was due. The rent was, too. So Mary Mbugua, a university student in Nyeri, Kenya, went out in search of a job. At first, she tried selling insurance policies, but that only paid on commission and she never sold one. Then she sat behind the reception desk at a hotel, but it ran into financial trouble.
Finally, a friend offered to help her break into “academic writing,” a lucrative industry in Kenya that involves doing school assignments online for college students in the United States, Britain and Australia. Ms. Mbugua felt conflicted.
“This is cheating,” she said. “But do you have a choice? We have to make money. We have to make a living.”
Since federal prosecutors charged a group of rich parents and coaches this year in a sprawling fraud and bribery scheme, the advantages that wealthy American students enjoy in college admissions have been scrutinized. Less attention has been paid to the tricks some well-off students use to skate by once they are enrolled.
Cheating in college is nothing new, but the internet now makes it possible on a global, industrial scale. Sleek websites — with names like Ace-MyHomework and EssayShark — have sprung up that allow people in developing countries to bid on and complete American homework assignments.
Although such businesses have existed for more than a decade, experts say demand has grown in recent years as the sites have become more sophisticated, with customer service hotlines and money-back guarantees. The result? Millions of essays ordered annually in a vast, worldwide industry that provides enough income for some writers to make it a full-time job.
. . . .
“It’s a huge problem,” said Tricia Bertram Gallant, director of the academic integrity office at the University of California, San Diego.“If we don’t do anything about it, we will turn every accredited university into a diploma mill.”
When such websites first emerged over a decade ago, they featured veiled references to tutoring and editing services, said Dr. Bertram Gallant, who also is a board member of the International Center for Academic Integrity, which has worked to highlight the danger of contract cheating. Now the sites are blatant.
“You can relax knowing that our reliable, expert writers will produce you a top quality and 100% plagiarism free essay that is written just for you, while you take care of the more interesting aspects of student life,” reads the pitch from Academized, which charges about $15 a page for a college freshman’s essay due in two weeks and $42 a page for an essay due in three hours.
“No matter what kind of academic paper you need, it is simple and secure to hire an essay writer for a price you can afford,” promises EssayShark.com. “Save more time for yourself.”
. . . .
Contract cheating is illegal in 17 states, but punishment tends to be light and enforcement rare. Experts said that no federal law in the United States, or in Kenya, forbids the purchase or sale of academic papers, although questions remain about whether the industry complies with tax laws.
“Because American institutions haven’t been whacked over the head like Australian schools were, it’s easier to pretend that it’s not happening,” said Bill Loller, vice president of product management for Turnitin, a company that develops software to detect plagiarism. “But it’s absolutely happening.”
Mr. Loller said he had worked with some colleges that have students who have never shown up for class or completed a single assignment. “They’ve contracted it all out,” he said.
. . . .
Continue reading here (though a subscription may be required).
September 8, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
A Belated Review of Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate
I believe that Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate (2002) is the most important book of the 21st Century, so far, because it puts intellectual thought on a firm foundation--an accurate and scientifically-supported conception of human behavior. The book thoroughly debunks the blank slate, ghost in the machine, and noble savage views of human behavior. Equally importantly, it shows that human behavior is a complicated combination of genetics and environment--both nature and nurture.
Malhar Mali has written a belated review of the Blank Slate: 15 Years Later, Why Do We Still Believe in the Blank Slate?
"Today, if one looks around, similar beliefs which abrogate our shared human nature and attribute our actions to culture, socialization, and society are plenty. The belief that only by representing men and women in equal parts in all fields can we cure sexism. The belief that it is our society which shapes what we find attractive. The belief that good parenting can control nearly all facets of how a child turns out. The belief that violence is learned. The belief that image and media representations construct our reality (and the only way to break that control is to fight back with representation)."
"It strikes me as troubling that there are still those of us who are willing to believe that it is mostly culture and society which shape the individual — and that by focusing only on fixing our systems can we alleviate human suffering. On the contrary, we need a fuller understanding of human nature in all its details. What is more concerning is that this book came out 15 years ago and yet we are still bogged down in the conversations that Pinker spent a considerable time in rebutting."
"Though long (and old), The Blank Slate is important reading for anyone who does not want to live in a fantasy world. One where the only engine powering human behavior is society while millions of years of evolution are discounted because they at times offer some truths that are often misconstrued as inconvenient. Human nature and our behavior are wondrous and fascinating subjects, and we cannot get to their core if we reject vast amounts of replicable findings about their genetic and evolutionary components." (emphasis added)
The view of human behavior one adopts is important. As the reviewer notes, "Mao and Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, who exterminated far more than Hitler did, explicitly endorsed the Blank Slate view of humanity."
Having a correct view of human behavior is also important for law teachers and scholars. As I have demonstrated in several books and articles on legal education, a correct view of how the brain works is essential for determining what learning techniques work best. Similarly, any legal article that is based on the blank slate view of human behavior is wrong from the beginning.
September 8, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, September 6, 2019
Get in touch if you're interested in writing a book review for "Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing"
The Editorial Board of Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing is always interested in publishing reviews of popular audience books that would be of interest to legal writing professors, law librarians, law firm writing consultants, and anyone else involved in the teaching or training of legal research and writing skills. Perspectives does not publish reviews of textbooks and similar publications intended specifically for use in the classroom (since we're a peer-edited publication, there are potential conflicts of interest and other ethical quandaries that could arise from appearing to endorse one colleague's textbook over another's). What we have in mind instead is that if you run across a book written for a general interest audience that you think our readership should know about or would find interesting, please get in touch. Subject matter could include popular books about the writing process, information literacy in the digital age, the cognitive science of how we write and communicate, etc., etc. We take an expansive view of what sorts of general interest books would be potentially helpful or interesting to our audience so if you've got something in mind, get in touch and let's discuss.
What reminded me to publish this solicitation is the post below about Professor Joe Moran's new book on effective writing. In particular, if you're interested in writing a review of Professor Moran's book "First You Write a Sentence," then please do get in touch with the Editorial Board here and we'll talk.
September 6, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
"First You Write A Sentence: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life" by Professor Joe Moran
Here's a new, general interest book on writing by Joe Moran, a professor of English at Liverpool John Moores University, which today was very favorably reviewed by the New York Times. Want to know how to better craft your sentences so the words slide down the reader's gullet like a clam? Want tips for improving the rhythm, organization, and syntax of your sentences? Then you should pick up a copy of Professor Moores' book which can be purchased here. First, though, an excerpt from Brian Dillon's lively review in the NYT:
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Moran is a professor of English at Liverpool John Moores University; he sounds like a drolly exacting teacher. Like most authors who wish to make writers of their readers, he spends part of his lesson telling us what not to do. He mocks the sclerotic nounifying of English — “website content delivery platform” — and the way verbs and simple nouns become solid, pompous nominalizations such as “temporality” and “positionality.” He laments the prepositional evasions in academic and managerial writing: all those “notions of” and “issues surrounding.” But Moran’s advice is chiefly positive. He is especially good on rhythm, syntax and structure. In English prose, an urging motion is all; Moran quotes the music critic Ian Penman, who calls rhythm “the whisper of unremitting demand.” Attend to your writing’s metrical satisfactions, keep the clauses short (which means you may have as many as you like) and vary your sentence lengths — your reader will want to hear and know more.
. . . .
Continue reading the review of "First Your Write A Sentence" here.
September 6, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
New phone app lets you point camera at legal citation then pulls case from Google Scholar
This goes in the "what'll-they-think-of-next" file and comes courtesy of Bob Ambrogi's always informative and timely LawSites blog. It's a smartphone app that lets you point your camera at a case citation and then pulls the case up from Google Scholar. The app is called "Opinion Minion" and works as illustrated below. At present, it's only available for iPhones and iPads but an Android version is in the works. Available from the Apple app store for only 99 cents.
Get it here.
September 4, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tribute to Alli Gerkman
We have just received the sad news that Alli Gerkman has passed away. Alli was a strong advocate of legal education reform in her roles as Director of Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers and IAALS Senior Director. I had a chance to talk with Alli at the ETL conference in Denver in 2013, and we have corresponded frequently about legal education and other topics.
Here is a memorial tribute from Rebecca Love Kourlis, Executive Director, IAALS:
"With heavy hearts we share the news of IAALS Senior Director Alli Gerkman’s passing after a long battle with cancer. There are no words that can adequately convey who Alli was—and who she was to us. Alli was a force of nature. She was a captivating presence and was remarkable in her ability to connect with others. Alli knew how to get things done and how to make things work. She knew what it meant to work hard and to laugh harder. She was a teammate and a friend. And she has left an incredible legacy.
Through her work, Alli transformed the way our nation thinks about legal education and the role lawyers play in our society. She was a leader in envisioning a better system where new lawyers could better serve clients and the public had better access to justice. She spent years challenging the status quo—and changing it. Her work has already changed the way countless law professors teach and how law schools devise curricula, and employers are also now changing the way they hire new lawyers. Alli spearheaded efforts to better understand what clients want, and to help lawyers adjust their practices to match. And she’s opened the door to a fundamental reframing of how lawyers enter the profession of law and how the profession itself is regulated.
She had much work left to do—and was loath to give it up. Her work was one of her many passions. But we carry it forward now with even deeper purpose and even deeper resolve. Our mission takes on greater meaning, because we now have to live up to the standard that Alli set for us as well. We can’t take no for an answer. Change is hard, and the fight is tough, but it is possible. Alli never saw obstacles; she only saw opportunities. And she was tireless in their pursuit.
A memorial in Denver is being planned, as well as an IAALS award in Alli's name. We will keep you updated on details as they get finalized.
Alli was—and is—at the heart of our IAALS family. We miss her. And we’ll make her proud."
Alli retweeted this tweet by Julia Maues in June:
"Thank you all for the nice messages of support. But know that I’m not amazing or strong. I’m just living the cards I have been dealt. And the fact I’m still here is not due to anything I’ve done. It’s luck. My friends who have died were way stronger." Alli was a remarkable person.
September 4, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)
The Importance of Revision in Legal Writing
One of the things I stress when teaching legal writing is the importance of revision. Yet some students ignore this advice and cling to their initial thoughts. Is the reason for this laziness, or is it something more complicated?
Jennifer Finney Boylan has some insights in a NY Times article: How I Learned to Fail Better.
"Why do we hate revision so much? Why do so many authors write a single draft and then declare their work complete?
In part, it’s because revision feels like failure. Having finished the task, who in their right mind would want to begin again? But sending out first drafts is the literary equivalent of walking around without pants. I don’t recommend it.
At Barnard, I teach a class called “Invention and Revision.” The first assignment is to write a story that is seven pages long. We come to class and talk about what works and what doesn’t. The second assignment, three weeks later, is the same story, now 21 pages long. We have the conversation in workshop once again. Then, three weeks after that, the student comes in with a third draft of the same story, three pages long. The final assignment is a fourth draft, with the length unspecified.
This echoes the process a lot of authors go through. The first draft asks the question, “Do I know anything?” The second draft — the long one — says, “Here’s everything I can think of on this topic.” The third draft — the short one — makes it shine.
My son’s French horn teacher once told him, “The difference between a good musician and a bad musician is that the good musician likes to practice.”
Multiple drafts are the writer’s equivalent of practice, and the mark of a good writer often is that she takes pleasure from watching the story morph from draft to draft. But it takes patience and time. Sometimes you have to wait a story out, let days, or months, go by, until you begin to see things more clearly.
As Samuel Beckett says, in “Worstward Ho”: 'Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'"
I think the underlined passage is key. Good writers derive pleasure from the writing process, including revision. Revision is not just a chore; it is an essential part of being a writer.
We must convince our students of the importance of revision. This requires a change of attitude. Revision is not failure. (The present generation of students has a particular fear of failure and acknowledging their mistakes.) It is making our writing the best it can be. Our students need to savor the process.
September 4, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (1)
The role and importance of law professor affect in the classroom
In 2006, I published a law review article called As a Last Resort, Ask the Students: What They Say Makes Someone An Effective Law Teacher, 58 Maine L. Rev. 50 (2006) (and available here on SSRN) that reported the results of a student survey I conducted at two law schools asking students to identify the personality traits they think makes someone an effective law professor. I just received an email from a law professor in Germany who is responsible for publishing something called The International Yearbook of Legal Education and he'd like to include my article in the next issue which is devoted to "the role of emotionality and personality of law teachers in legal education." As Professor Bergmans explained to me, it is an aspect of law teaching that has been "almost totally neglected in the . . . scientific literature on legal education" and is "rarely addressed in detail." So I was pleased to learn that Professor Bergmans said he'd like to republish my article for an international audience of legal educators. Over the course of my teaching career, I haven't published many law review length articles - chiefly because they take me years to write as I feel the need to spend sufficient time to dive deeply into my subjects to try to get it right. So it's always nice to hear that others have actually read what I've written and find it helpful to their own teaching.
September 4, 2019 | Permalink | Comments (0)